A HEALTH chief says changes to GP workforces and contracts will help to ease pressure on doctors' surgeries in Dorset – and hopefully prevent any further closures.

Dr Karen Kirkham, local GP and locality chairman for Weymouth and Portland at NHS Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), has told the Dorset Echo about the changing face of primary care across the county and how the CCG dealt with the shock closure of Abbotsbury Road Surgery in Weymouth.

Dorset CCG was faced with an "enormous task" following the announcement that the surgery, which previously served 9,000 patients, would close at the end of March, Dr Kirkham said.

Patients had to be transferred safely to nearby practices outside of working hours and this was done, it seems, with little disruption.

The surgery incorporated the Chickerell branch in Lower Way which also had to close.

Dr Kirkham said: "Priority number one was patient safety...the second was that staffing could be managed. We did as good a job as we could have. We worked really well as a team. "I would like to thank everybody who was involved in this enormous piece of work."

Addressing the issue which led to the closure of Abbotsbury Road Surgery – a failure to recruit new GPs to replace retiring partners – Dr Kirkham admitted that it is difficult to recruit staff and that a "modern view" of primary care is needed. She referred to the new GP contract agreement, which offers more choice for patients, and said elements of it have been taking place in Dorset for a number of years already.

She explained that people in the future are going to be able to book an appointment directly to see a physiotherapist or a pharmacist without first having to go through a GP, freeing up GP time to focus on patients who may require more time in their appointments. It will eventually mean that non-GP staff are likely to form the majority of the workforce in practices.

Dr Kirkham continued: "Dorset is in a good place in terms of changes that have been made. Because general practice is under a lot of strain, people are respectful of the changes.

"Not everyone needs to be seen by a GP. Patients need to think about how to manage their own conditions. What we really want to get to is....to make sure people are seen appropriately."

The Echo posed the question of whether the changing GP workforce could help to prevent further surgery closures.

Dr Kirkham responded: "Each surgery is an individual business, how they run it is not up to me. If they make that decision then they make that decision like Abbotsbury Road did, but that's obviously not what we want for general practice in Weymouth and Portland. We want to be able to work with our partners and we see that as part of our strategy going forward."

'We need a new build in Weymouth'

THERE could be some time to wait before Chickerell gets its planned new health centre, but it is work in progress, it has been confirmed.

We reported in December 2018 that the community looked increasingly likely to secure a new GP surgery in the future.

During a talk with the Dorset Echo, Dr Karen Kirkham said: "We need a new build in Weymouth...it depends on funding and how we're going to raise that amount of money to build a new health centre."

Dr Kirkham said a big factor in the future of the surgery was the scale of population growth in the Chickerell area following the new housing developments.

She said: "We want to make sure we don't build it too small, and there will be a big project around that.

"It's not just about new patients, it's about those that are existing too. We hope patients feel like they have been informed."